Battle of Saldanha Bay (1796)

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Battle of Saldanha Bay (1796)
Part of War of the First Coalition
Present day Saldanha Bay
Date 17 August 1796
Location Saldanha Bay, South Africa
Result Batavian Surrender
 Great Britain  Batavian Republic
Commanders and leaders
Vice-Admiral George Elphinstone Rear-Admiral Engelbertus Lucas
13 ships 9 ships
Casualties and losses
none 9 ships surrendered

The Battle of Saldanha Bay refers to the surrender without a fight of a squadron of the navy of the Batavian Republic under the command of Rear-Admiral Engelbertus Lucas (1747-21 June 1797)[1] to a Royal Navy squadron under the command of Vice-Admiral George Elphinstone at Saldanha Bay on 17 August 1796. In 1781, at an earlier battle of Saldanha Bay, a British naval squadron had captured five East Indiamen belonging to the Dutch East India Company.


After the surrender of the Dutch Republic to the invading French in January 1795, and the subsequent proclamation of the Batavian Republic, which changed sides in the War of the First Coalition, and concluded an offensive and defensive alliance with France in the war against Great Britain, the government of the latter country procured the Kew Letters of the former Stadtholder, William V, Prince of Orange, which helped it to conquer the Dutch Cape Colony (16 September 1795). The next year the Batavian Republic decided to make an attempt to reconquer the Cape. To that end an expedition of 9 ships with 2,000 sailors and soldiers was launched under the command of (temporary) Rear-Admiral Lucas (whose only recommendation was that he had made a voyage as a navy captain to the East-Indies in 1786, and was considered a loyal adherent of the regime) in January 1796. This expedition arrived at Saldanha Bay on 6 August 1796.[2]

The incident[edit]

Dutch Cape Colony and Saldanha Bay at the eve of British Occupation 1795/96

British forces at the Cape under Admiral Elphinstone and General James Henry Craig had been forewarned that Dutch and French naval expeditions were underway. When rumours of the presence of the Dutch squadron reached the Cape, a cavalry reconnaissance was made and confirmation obtained the same day. Craig marched with 2500 men and 11 guns to Saldanha, where he arrived on 14 August. Meanwhile, Elphinstone made repeated attempts to reach Saldanha Bay by sea, but gale-force winds made this impossible till 16 August. He then trapped the Dutch fleet with a superior force (13 ships versus 9, of superior rating).[3]

Meanwhile, Lucas had been taking in water, repairing his sails, and putting the many sick and disabled seamen of his fleet ashore. He had been warned by locals that were sympathetic to the Dutch, of the arrival of Craig, but decided to complete his replenishment. When he was confronted with a demand for surrender by Elphinstone (who offered honourable terms and pointed out his superiority, which made resistance problematic), he immediately agreed verbally.[Note 1] During his later court-martial he offered the excuse that his crews had been mutinous during the voyage;[5] many sailors were adherents of the old regime, and hostile to the Batavian Republic. He therefore calculated that he would not have been able to count on those crews. Indeed, after the surrender, several of the crews actively mutinied, and had to be subdued by the British.

Lucas then tried to obtain better terms for the capitulation, but in the exchange of letters that followed (included in Elphinstone's dispatches of 19 August) Elphinstone would only agree to leaving the Dutch officers in possession of their side-arms.[6]


Most of the sailors and soldiers in the Dutch force were Germans and nearly all entered British service, either with the Royal Navy or the British East India Company. Admiral Lucas and the Dutch officers returned to the Batavian Republic on parole in the cartel ship Gertruida.

The news of the surrender caused an uproar in the Netherlands. There was a great popular demand for a court-martial of Lucas and his officers. Lucas himself asked for such a court-martial, to enable him to defend his actions. This court-martial (a Hoge Zeekrijgsraad) was convened by a decree of the National Assembly of the Batavian Republic on 11 April 1797. However, by then Lucas was already severely ill. He died on 21 June 1797.[7] This made the court-martial itself moot, but the advocaat-fiscaal[8] Jacobus Spoors nevertheless diligently conducted a thorough investigation of the affair. His report of 19 December 1797, exonerated Lucas and his officers.[9] This lenient treatment may have contributed to the attitude of the officers who later became involved in the similar Vlieter Incident.

On 7 March 1797, the cabinet made Elphinstone an Irish peer, Baron Kieth of Stonehaven-Marischal.

Ships surrendered[edit]

Ship Guns Commander Complement Notes Disposition
Dordrecht 66 Rear Admiral Engelbertus Lucas 370 Ship of the Line HMS Dordrecht
Revolutie 66 Capt. Jan Rhynbende 400 Ship of the Line HMS Prince Frederick
Admiraal Tromp or Maarten Harpertzoon Tromp 54 Lt. Jan Valkenburg 280 Ship of the Line HMS Van Tromp
Castor 44 Capt. Jacob Claris (or Clarisse) 240 Frigate HMS Saldanha
Braave 40 Lt. Jacob Zoetemans 234 Frigate HMS Braave
Bellona 28 Lt. Gustaaf Adolph de Valk 130 Frigate HMS Vindictive
Sireene 20 Lt. Christiaan De Cerf 130 Sloop HMS Daphne
Havik 18 Lt. Pieter Bessemer (or Bezemer) 76 Sloop HMS Havick
Vrouw Maria 16 Lt. Hermanus Barbier 112 Indiaman used as a storeship
Sources: Otridge, p. 90; Government of the Cape Colony (1899), Vol. 5, p.10.

Notes, citations, and references[edit]

  1. ^ Elphinstone wrote later: "I must, however, beg leave to observe, that any resistance on the part of the enemy could only have occasioned the wanton sacrifice of a few lives; and I doubt not that had their numbers been adequate to the contention, their conduct would have confirmed the acknowledged merit at all times recorded to the martial spirit of subjects of the United States [sic; he probably meant "Provinces"]; and I can with similar confidence assure you, that the officers and men under my command would have exhibited a conduct equally creditable to themselves"[4]
  1. ^ The father of Lieutenant-Admiral Engelbertus Lucas, Dutch Minister of the Navy (1785–1870)
  2. ^ Potgieter, p. 19
  3. ^ Potgieter, p. 20
  4. ^ Otridge, p. 86
  5. ^ De Jonge, p. 283
  6. ^ Otridge, p. 88-89
  7. ^ De Jonge, p. 271
  8. ^ Prosecutor.
  9. ^ Zeekrijgsraad, passim; De Jonge, p. 274
  • Government of the Cape Colony (1899) Records of the Cape Colony from February 1793, Vol. 5.
  • (Dutch) Jonge, J.C. de, and Jonge, J.K. de (1862) Geschiedenis van het Nederlandsche zeewezen, A.C. Kruseman
  • Knock, Arie Johannes (1994) Uit Lievde voor Vaderland en Vrijheid. Het journaal van de patriot Arie Johannes Knock over de periode 1784 tot 1797. Uitgeverij Verloren, Hilversum 1994. ISBN 90-6550-125-8. pp. 137–181
  • Otridge, W. et al. (1800) "Dispatches from Sir George Keith Elphinstone, K.B. on board Monarch, Saldanha Bay, August 19, 1796" in: The Annual Register, Or a View of the History, Politics, and Literature for the Year 1796, pp. 84–90
  • Potgieter, Thean (2003) 'Maritime Defence of the Cape of Good Hope, 1779-1803. Historia. Vol. 48 No. 1. May 2004. pp. 283–308

External links[edit]